The three Bitcoin core developers who were, up until now, funded by the Bitcoin Foundation will join the MIT Media Lab's newly established Digital Currency Initiative.
Former lead developer and chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, Gavin Andresen, announced the news on his own blog yesterday. The move means that Andresen, as well as core Maintainer Wladimir van der Laan and Developer Cory Fields, will no longer receive their salary from the foundation. Instead, they will be funded by MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, which also seeks to provide a stable platform for the developers to work from. The MIT Media Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory headed by Joi Ito—who is know for his interest in Bitcoin—while the Digital Currency Initiative was launched only last week, and is headed by former White House advisor Brian Forde.
The switch for Andresen, Van der Laan and Fields comes in the wake of a hectic month for the Bitcoin Foundation. Earlier this month, newly elected board member Olivier Janssens exposed the dire financial situation at the foundation, after which the foundation publicized plans to split up into a promotional body, a development body, and an additional standards body specifically geared towards the standardization of the Bitcoin protocol. Ito then proposed to host a Bitcoin standards body at MIT’s Media Lab. It now seems like this idea has spun into actually host a Bitcoin development body instead, although Forde emphasized that MIT will officially be doing neither.
Speaking to Cointelegraph, Forde said:
“The Digital Currency Initiative is not hosting a development NOR a standards body. [Andresen, Van der Laan and Fields] have accepted positions at the Media Lab to continue developing [Bitcoin core]—a community-driven free software project. As I mentioned in my post, we want them to do exactly what they were doing before— write the code that maintains and improves Bitcoin core. We look forward to providing them with a stable platform and the resources needed to allow them to best support the community.”
The Bitcoin Foundation, which was founded in 2012, has always been controversial in the sphere, as some feared that the organization could become a centralizing force in the decentralized Bitcoin ecosystem. Janssens in particular has been a vocal opponent of the foundation's mission to fund core development, which is why he awarded Mike Hearn's Lighthouse project with US$50,000, hoping it could replace the foundation. More recently, Janssens got elected to the board of the foundation on a platform that promised to divorce the foundation from the development of Bitcoin.
In his blog post, Andresen responded to this presumed centralization of power at the foundation, and sought to ease similar concerns that MIT could now become such a centralized power:
“The Bitcoin Foundation was never the center of development; the Bitcoin core open-source software project has been the center, and like most open-source software projects, the developers who work on Bitcoin core are supported in many different ways. Some work for companies that want to see Bitcoin succeed, some for nonprofits, and many are self-funded and self-motivated.”
The Media Lab's primary source of funding comes from corporate sponsorship. Typically, the lab asks sponsors to fund general themes. Specific members of the lab's faculty and research staff often also assist the sponsor companies in deriving the benefits from their sponsorship.
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